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  • ‘The US discovering this is really embarrassing’

    The Volkswagen test-rigging scandal has been roundly cited as an embarrassment for regulators in Europe because it took an American regulator to highlight blatant malpractice by a European company. The discomfort is heightened by the fact that diesel cars make up a tiny percentage of the market in the US – about 3% – but they account for about 50% of sales in Europe. EU regulators were also informed at the same time as those in the US by the International Council on Clean Transportation but took no action.

    In a meeting with the EU industry commissioner Elżbieta Bieńkowska earlier this month, MEPs said the VW scandal had risked the credibility of the EU’s regulatory enforcement regime, and called for the European Commission to introduce stricter emissions tests without delay. The leading socialist MEP Kathleen van Brempt said: ‘That the US and not our agencies in the EU discovered this is really embarrassing.’

    EU regulations in various forms are used widely globally except in North America and Japan. There is now concern other regions will adopt stronger systems, putting EU manufacturers at a disadvantage as they need to configure their models for other tests.

    The weakness of European regulation was highlighted by a survey of national type approval authorities in seven EU member states by the Financial Times, which showed that four – Germany, Spain, Slovakia and the Czech Republic – have not carried out inspections for defeat devices since the Commission declared them illegal in 2007. Two others – France and the UK – refused to comment, and Italy said it had carried out ‘some inspections’. The FT quotes German authorities as saying they have no mandate to carry out on-the-road inspections, only test procedures.

    The Dutch MEP Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy, who sits on the European Parliament’s environment committee, called for the Commission to have much stronger powers to ensure testing is not being rigged. He said: ‘The problem is the system we have created in the EU, where there seems to be a very perverse incentive for national testing authorities to be as easy-going as possible to attract car companies.’

    Under current rules, carmakers are allowed to go to any approved test regulator in the EU, and, if a vehicle passes its emissions test, it then counts as being approved across all 28 member states. ‘It’s a system designed for inaction, and inaction is what we’ve got,’ said T&E’s director Jos Dings.

    Many commentators have said the power of the German car industry over national and EU lawmakers lies at the root of the problem. Writing in Politico, Tim King said former Commission president José-Manuel Barroso ‘should never have allowed Günther Verheugen to become commissioner for the German car industry.’ He added: ‘The damage here goes beyond the harm to the environment and human health. It includes the exposure of the EU as both a toothless regulator and a flawed lawmaker. We already know that, whereas environmental regulators in the US are feared, their EU counterparts do not inspire the same respect. They do not have the powers of direct enforcement that are enjoyed, for example, by the Commission’s competition department. But the VW saga goes further than that: it casts doubt on the way that EU laws are drawn up, and reminds us that the legislation has already been shaped according to corporate taste.’

    Link to Financial Times report:…

    Link to Politico analysis:…

    Link to Parliament Magazine report on MEPs’ comments:…